Tag Archives: reality

Dreaming reality

Everything human-made has been dreamed up by someone. Our cultures, societies, communities, urban spaces, our farming and our treatment of the landscape is all a consequence of someone’s dreaming. Sometimes we dream together and deliberately. Sometimes we dream many different things and what we get is a messy hotchpotch that isn’t quite what anyone wanted.

Our dreaming is not a neutral process. What we dream of, we may invest in, purchase, or vote for. The person or company that can offer us the things we dream of will be especially attractive to us. Giving people their dreams is tricky for anyone who is not a fairy godmother. It is simpler to persuade people to dream of certain things so that you already have the solutions in a warehouse ready to sell to them.

However, we can also dream of changing things. We can dream of planting trees and living in a low carbon economy. We can dream of social justice – as many people have for many hundreds of years. When the dream of social justice becomes more appealing than the dream of having power over others, there will be social justice. When dreams of compassion become more widespread than dreams of greed and ownership, compassion will become normal and greed will become rare. Everything we do starts with ideas, and those ideas can seed in us, barely noticed even as they are part of what shapes humanity’s relationship with the living Earth.

We make the human aspects of our world out of our dreams. We start with ideas, and we build and change in line with them. We get caught up in the dreams of others. Nothing that humans do or make is inevitable. There were always multitudinous other options we could have taken. Unfortunately we have habits of telling our history stories in ways that help us believe there was no other way. There was always another way. There were always people dreaming differently and imagining something else – good dreams and nightmares alike.

Climate change exists because of our dreams of having lots of energy to use. We dream of travelling quickly from one place to another, quickly replacing throwaway fashion to be up to date. We dream of easy food in simple containers, we dream of brands and buy their plastic bottles. We do not dream of the sea when we throw our rubbish into watercourses. We dream of holidays in the sun, and so we embrace air travel. To change our collective behaviour we have to change our individual dreams and our ideas about what to value and aspire to.

When you get down to it, dreams are powerful, but they’re also incredibly ephemeral. Of all the things we might try to change, they may be the easiest to tackle, and some of the most effective. What we imagine has the power to change our lives. It costs nothing to imagine differently. It requires little effort. It may not even require much persuasion.

There will be more thoughts around how we do this in the next week or so.

Wonky realities and unthinkable thoughts

A radical change in thinking is not something we can always do in a conscious way. If, for example, your reality is broken in some way, the process of recognising this and changing it might be impossible with your conscious mind. Much of the work may be done when asleep, and it can surface in dreams.

We invest a lot in our version of reality. It’s how we navigate and what we base our decisions on. However, our beliefs can turn out to be wrong. We may have trusted the wrong people, we may have invested in something that demonstrably doesn’t work. When this happens, most of us are not quick to respond to new evidence. We hang on to the old belief even as evidence stacks up to refute it. I think we do this because we’ve invested something of ourselves in that belief, and it is our sense of self that would have to change to accommodate having been wrong.

If you carry on doing something that doesn’t work, of course you just dig yourself in deeper. The debt from the unsustainable lifestyle gets bigger. The relationship gets ever more dysfunctional. Your health deteriorates. The less you square up to a problem, the bigger it gets. What might have been manageable when it first became evident, becomes bigger and more difficult. Admitting not only to the mistake, but the consequences of clinging to the mistake becomes ever more costly. So you tell yourself that you can have the thing you’ve been told explicitly isn’t possible. And you keep digging the hole.

I’ve been here.

While I was clinging to a reality that didn’t work, my dreams reduced down to a handful of anxiety stories. Some part of my brain knew perfectly well that I was in a lot of trouble, and was trying to get in touch with the rest of my brain. I didn’t listen, for years. I couldn’t face knowing. I bent what reality I had around the broken bits to try and make it work until everything was distorted and dysfunctional. In the end, I got very ill, and change happened anyway and I had no choice but to deal with how broken my reality had become. At that point, I still couldn’t do much of it consciously.

Anyone practicing spiritual disciplines may feel that they are self aware and in control of their mind. You can do a lot of work to explore your unconscious urges and motivations, and still not be able to recognise that some part of your reality is broken. It is easy to assume that you have the self awareness not to fall into this kind of trap. That you’re too good, too clever, too engaged to be living inside an illusion. In practice, you just have the tool set to make a more detailed and carefully justified illusion. If there’s something you don’t want to consciously look at, no amount of being enlightened will give you the self honesty to easily tackle it.

This is because self honesty isn’t the key issue here. It’s how invested we are in how we think things work. It is possible to hold ideas lightly and feel easy about changing them. If someone came along with a new take on gravity or the nature of atoms, I could go along with that comfortably enough. If something comes along that impacts on a key relationship in my life, I might ignore the evidence rather than face it, because I may be too invested to be able to deal with what’s happening. Would I sacrifice that level of attachment for a more dispassionate view? No. Not being that invested comes at a cost as well. Investment itself is a form of vulnerability, but without that kind of vulnerability everything can only ever be superficial.

Creating my own reality

We have beliefs about the ways in which, by action and sheer will, we can change our reality, and we also all have beliefs about the ways in which there is no scope for change whatsoever. Some of these are more sensible than others, and I am picking some examples that strike me as especially nuts.

A great many adult humans spend vast amounts of money on products and interventions which promise the illusion of youth. We are all getting older, that’s a key feature of being alive. Rather than accept this process and work with it gracefully, we expend vast amounts of human time, energy and resource on fighting it. This tide will not go back no matter how we shout at it.

On the other hand, we’re willing to treat human constructs as inevitable and unassailable. We’ve built a vast and complex house on the sandy base that is cheap energy. When the oil runs out, we’re in trouble, and yet we do not consider changing the system. We’ll look anywhere for answers, no matter how short term and suicidal rather than even consider the systems we built might have to change.

All too often, we don’t believe we can change our health by changing our lifestyles but will pay for pills that claim to do it for us, and never mind the side effects. Death is inevitable but we want a magic pill to chase it away.

Too many of us no longer believe we make a difference by voting, while far, far too many are happy to trust decision making to the dubious few who put themselves forwards.

We believe that there’s no money to feed and house our poorest people, while at the same time we’re also happy to believe that spending £100billion on nuclear weapons and the capacity to kill 45 million people is a prudent investment for jobs and future security.

Look at the things we seem willing to believe as a society, and the quantity of cognitive dissonance is astounding. 97% of scientists say man made climate change exists and yet we still consent to be ruled by people do not believe in it. England, if we were a person, we’d have to be medicated to the eyeballs and put in a padded room because our delusions are vast, and our beliefs so shockingly irrational.

With our beliefs, we create our reality, and by this means we shall have a vast array of nuclear weapons and people in poverty killing themselves. We shall have miracle anti aging face creams and continue to die younger than we might have done as a consequence of obesity, air pollution and road deaths. As for what we’ll do when climate change and peak oil wash away the foundations of sand – that’s anyone’s guess, but I don’t have much confidence that at such a time, we will collectively wake up and think clever thoughts. We’re just not in the habit.

And then there’s that merry band of us, Cnut-like, shouting at the sea of humanity to go back. Try something else. Irrationally optimistic that we can get people to change their beliefs. Wet feet it is, then.

Breaking your reality

We do all to a certain extent choose our realities, because the way in which we interpret experience informs how we think and feel about it. While there are limits on how much we can change our reality by thinking about it (I am so not a chaos magician) the scope for difference is vast. No amount of positive thinking would turn this awkward body into a ballerina, but the ability to imagine I could be graceful would make the difference between dancing and not dancing.

We make theories about life based on experience. It is entirely possible to draw fairly reasonable conclusions that are entirely wrong. We try to find meaning in what happens to us, and that’s a very subjective process. Where we place the power in those judgements makes worlds of difference. Do I see an event of proof of failure and that I am therefore a failure? Do I see it is bad luck and worth another try? Do I see someone else as responsible for thwarting me? Get that wrong and I can start to build a reality that will get me into trouble. Believe I am thwarted and I might start feeding a paranoid persecution complex.

Sometimes, when a wonky reality is really embedded, the only way forward is to break. Sometimes there can be no tidy dismantling of the messy thinking. If your whole reality is a mess, based on dubious premises, then letting go of it will, for a while at least feel like madness. This is a huge incentive not to let go. Sometimes the road to sanity and health does require us to go a bit nuts first. I’ve been through some of this, needing to shift from a belief that I entirely deserved everything that had gone wrong for me. Holding everyone else blameless, I had carried guilt and feelings of being an absolute failure. For them to be right, and ok, I must be so awful that I barely qualified as a proper person. More like a straw doll. Changing that was quite a traumatic process, and it has redefined a significant number of relationships.

It doesn’t always have to be that dramatic. The process described above was one I had little conscious control over. My life and mind fell apart, there was nothing to do but work through that. However, choosing to dismantle a wonky reality, can be approached slowly and a bit more gently. We can set out to change our own thinking, and do that by changing what we do, or the spaces we move in. We are shaped by our environments, by the people we associate with, the things we do, or do not do, and small or modest shifts there can have considerable effects.

I’ve been working this year on changing my relationship with my body, and how I relate to people physically. Initially I thought that would just be about learning to do some things differently, but it is changing my thinking so that I can now see how my thinking needs to change in order to progress. At the moment I’m just trying to unpick what it is that I think and feel, because in understanding that, I might be able to make some conscious changes, or plan some experiments to help me find other perspectives.

Holding together all questions of reality, is that huge issue of “who am I?” Working out what of our experiences are a reflection of self, and defining of who we are. Working out what is just ‘stuff that happened’ and should not be taken personally. How much of that is choice? Do we simply become the bits of our life experience that we choose to internalise? If that’s the case, there is a lot of scope for choosing, and for shifting our realities.

Slightly out of my head

I’m fascinated by the way in which illness affects my brain, especially anything that leaves me feverish. Having had a round of this over the last few days, it’s been one of the few things reliably on my mind. Brains are of course a heady mix of biology and chemistry (plus inexplicable consciousness) and the limits of what it’s possible to do with them has all kinds of implications.

Monday night there was a scary thing. The kind of thing that in normal circumstances, would have given me a panic attack. I felt fear as a more intellectual thing, and then my body just didn’t. There was no spare energy with which to panic, no means of working up a rush of adrenaline, it just wasn’t happening. The ill state of my body neatly cancelled out the ill state of my brain, leaving me with nothing more dramatic than an ‘isn’t that interesting’ and a desire to try and sleep it all off.

Various fevers have convinced me (temporarily)that I know the secrets of the universe, am dying, that reality is just lots of little boxes blending together, that the bed is a boat, that the bed in a boat is not in a boat after all, and all manner of random things. Recognising feverishness, it is important to check these things with kind, non-feverish people who can confirm or deny as appropriate. It’s useful, when hallucinating for example, to know that that the faces in the curtain are not, really speaking, there. Knowing I’m ill and being able to ask and get a check on where consensus reality is saves me from getting on facebook and announcing that I’ve seen how it really is… when really it’s the flu speaking.

Various bouts of depression and anxiety have convinced me (also temporarily)  that I am doomed, ought to die, that the universe is innately hostile, that nothing I do can ever work, and a whole bunch of other profoundly unhelpful things. However, depression and anxiety do not show up with overt physical symptoms that alert other people to the problem. It’s still brain chemistry miss-firing though. A check-in with consensus reality is just as valuable in this context as it is when there’s fever conjuring little green men into your sock drawer.

I have a lot of questions about how real reality really is. Not helped by recently listening to Brian Cox on radio 6, talking about the infinite possibilities of the multiverse. I was feverish at the time, but am reliably informed he did say things that suggest Douglas Adams was right, and therefore somewhere there really are sentient mattresses… but I digress, which is easy when the mind is a bit wobbly. What enables us to get by passably from one day to the next is having some agreements about what reality is, what is real and how to think about it. Illness can distort and change it – whether we get more or less real when out of our heads is really secondary to the certainty that we do get less functional. Checking that gravity works, and that the conviction you can fly may be flawed, is, for example, a good investment. I regularly dream I can fly, and fever can break down the clear lines between awake and asleep.

If you don’t test your impressions, then you keep your own private take on reality locked safe inside. No one can see it, comment, ridicule, or deny it for you. This may be fine right up until you jump out of the window. The person who can be trusted to recognise when you’re ill and out of tune with the consensus, is a very good friend to have, especially if you are prone to an unwellness of the head. Not the person who calls you stupid and deluded – thus actually confirming your fears whilst making it impossible to talk about them. The person who can say “it probably looks that way because you’ve fallen down a hole, other realities are available” is a great help. Keep silent and it is much easier to believe that the hole is real, and all the people acting as though they are not in a hole, are insane. If you mention, and it turns out everyone else is stood in the same hole after all, you know it’s not you, and you’ve got a team seeking an escape route, and that’s better. It gives you unions, pressure groups, revolutions…A bit of consensus reality can go a long way sometimes.

Whose universe is it?

In the last week or so, a collision of two books has got me thinking about the nature of reality and how we relate to it. (Jack Barrow’s The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil was one of them). For the magician, the self is the centre of the universe, and the will / imagination can direct said. I’m a long way from being an expert, but as I understand it, holding that belief is rather necessary if you want to go about doing magic. Now, on the Zen side, Jo points out there is one universe and we’re not the centre of it and if we can learn to see ourselves as part of the flow we’ll be able to get along a lot better.

I find both ideas compelling, and after some serious pondering I have come to the conclusion that these things are probably both true. One universe where you are not the centre, another where each of us the centre of his or her own universe and able to shape it by force of will. The life we live, the way we experience things, the choices we make – come down so often to our perceptions and beliefs. If I believe the universe is out to get me, I’ll see proof of that in every setback, and will resolutely ignore the opportunities that came with the setbacks, potentially to my own detriment. If I believe that I am divinely inspired with a special job to do, I’ll look around me and see proof of that in every rainbow and cupcake that comes my way. We see what we want to see.

What’s probably least helpful is bumbling through life without any deliberate choice about how to engage with the world. I don’t mean a ‘go with the flow’ attitude here, I mean a total lack of engagement with anything. The kind of blinkered view that makes it impossible to connect outcomes to actions, to predict how what we do today might shape our options for tomorrow, and to be able to see how other people’s motives might affect things. I’ve encountered that kind of wilful blindness, that refusal to see how what we do influences what we get, often coupled with an inability to imagine that other people are different from us, want different things and react in different ways.

I’m not sure it entirely matters what your relationship with the universe is. I am utterly convinced of the importance of having a considered approach to living and being. Even if that doesn’t fit into an existing idea about how to do things. But then, I’ve also seen so many human relationships conducted with no consciousness of cause and effect, or the implications of difference, too. Things work better when we pay attention to them, think about them, and do not take them for granted.

I am the centre of my own little universe. I am also aware that everyone around me is the centre of their own little universe too, no one of these any more important than any other, all of them able to influence how my bit of reality functions for me, all of them potentially influenced by what I do. Perhaps it could be a lot simpler than that, but I find this perspective works enough for me, so it’ll do for now.

Dancing down the knife edge

I’m not sure if this counts as magic, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week… It’s not exactly a case of going with the flow because that suggests submitting to where life seems to be taking you. I have found that when I’m going the right way, coincidence, serendipity, luck, call it what you will, helps me put things together in ways that take me forward. When I’m not going the right way, it’s like walking through mud and climbing over slidey walls on a regular basis.

I have yet to pin down a good working definition of ‘right way’. I know it doesn’t automatically correspond to my assumptions about what I should be doing. I don’t really believe in an external conductor of reality who wants me to do some things and not others. Which mostly leaves me feeling that I have no idea what this really is or how it works. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that it does exist, and does work because I’ve dealt with it so many times. If I am going the wrong way, its all uphill and grindy and miserable and nothing works right. If I go the right way, things fall into place.

Not that the ‘right way’ can be defined as somehow easy. Its often mad
and challenging, hence the title. My best description of what it feels like to be going the right way, is to be dancing down the blade of a very sharp knife. One slip and it’s going to hurt like hell. The right way is more like tightrope than a path, and often seems to depend on putting together things that really I have no right to assume will come together. I had a period of this around leaving my last home and moving to the boat, and I got everything I needed sorted in the necessary time frame, and I danced the knife blade all the way. Losing my nerve results in the fall and the inevitable cuts. I’m reasonably convinced now that blind faith that I *can* both find and dance down the knife blades of reality when required, is pretty much essential for actually doing it, which means if I’m overwhelmed with depression or anxiety, I’ve got no chance. I won’t dare the knife dance, but the not daring tends to bring more of the grind and the uphill struggle. Apparently my life does not come with an easy option, or if it did, I missed the turning a very long time ago. Dance the knife, or push boulders up mountains… both are exhausting, but the knife edge is wild and exhilarating, and gets me places I should not get to be.

Being a lot like dancing down the blade of a knife, the knife option is inherently scary, a lot of the time. I’m sort of reconciled to that. A bit. I’ve come to the conclusion at any rate that I am not going to spend my life pushing any more irrelevant boulders up mountains than is strictly necessary. if I’m going to have challenges, I’d rather they be wild and of my seeking, and maybe have some point to them and be able to achieve something. When I can get into it enough to really dance down the knife with everything I have, unafraid and totally able to believe I can dance the knife blade, I make stuff happen. Things come to me. Things fall into place. The book I need, lands. The right information or person finds me. It may be simply that when I believe I can do it, I become able to see all the disparate things that can be pulled together to make something. It might just be a perception issue. That doesn’t make it any less magical.

… laces on dancing shoes…

Madness and Creativity

This may not bear much resemblance to what I said at Asylum, because I was winging it, but following on from Tom’s Guest blog, some more thoughts about the curious relationship between the two.

The list of identifiably mad creative genius types, is shocking. Depression and mental instability are widespread in the creative community and always have been. However, there are also far more ill people who do not produce great works of art or literature. Being mad means not working, usually, while suicide has cut short too many lives. How different would the world be if Virginia Wolf, Sylvia Plath Thomas Chatterton and others had not taken their own lives? How much more could Poe or Tennyson have done if they’d not been fighting demons? Periods of madness tend to be periods of creative inactivity.  I don’t know if having poor mental health is more likely to attract you to artistic professions, or if the irregular hours and it being okay to not work when you can’t is a part of the correlation. Perhaps being creative runs the risk of driving you mad…

Mostly we measure madness as deviation from normality. You only have to go back a few hundred years and the people we would now medicate, were considered mystics. These days if you went into the desert and heard a voice instructing you to kill your son, you’d be taken into care, you wouldn’t be founding Judaism. It creates some interesting questions about the history of religion, too. Go into a supermarket in your Druid regalia, or your steampunk outfit and if you are the only one, people will look at you like you are crazy. Go in with twenty other folks who are also dressed up, and its instantly more socially acceptable. The impression of madness can be all about the numbers. This rather suggests that if enough of us take up the alternative, the crazy fringe stuff, we could make it normal. There are interesting and amusing implications to this.

To do anything creative, you have to think of things no one has ever thought of before. An excess of thinking things no one else thinks means dislocation from consensus reality. This alone would account for the close relationship between insanity and genius. It’s a bit of a balancing act and for some of us there is a choice. Plunging into the deep waters of awen in search of the salmon of wisdom, can be a deliberate action. Stay in there too long, and you drown. You can also chose not to plunge, to control the mind so that errant thoughts are quickly discarded. We construct our own realities and we have a lot of scope to choose and manage our own thoughts.

There’s a lovely Robert Holdstock term for people who stay too long in the magical forest: Bosky. I have been there. I write about madness. I voluntarily enter into situations that alter my state of consciousness (not drugs, brain chemistry). I am not afraid to think the wilder, more dangerous thoughts, and a great deal of my writing comes out of these journeys. However, I also know how to walk that tightrope, dancing down the edges without falling into dysfunction. I know how to stay real, when to step back from the computer and clean something, cook something, reassert regular reality.

I also know from experience that mental ill health is not creative. Depression and anxiety knock the inspiration out of me, leaving me in a dead and useless head space. Creativity actually takes a lot of discipline, a loss of mental balance does not give you that, wild flailings are seldom creative, which is why merely being a bit mad will not make you a creative genius. It may be true that some of our great creative minds took substances to help them, but taking substances will not turn you into Coleridge, or Hendrix. Vision without discipline isn’t enough.

Playing with that which seems like madness can be a very good thing. It is only by thinking of that which does not exist, has not happened, is not currently possible, that we get innovation, and that’s as true for science as for fiction. I think it’s the person who makes those journeys alone who is most vulnerable. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back, have someone watch your back. Test the ideas on one you trust so you know if you’ve come back with poetry or bat shit crazy. A little more of the right kind of madness would make the world a much better place.

Breaking your reality

I’ve been through it twice, so far, at intervals of about a decade. On both occasions the breaking of my reality had everything to do with two separate individuals and the complex webs of lies they created. And on both occasions, I fought hard to keep my reality whole, because the alternative always appears so insane, unstable and dangerous. Until you escape. Both times, in the end, I went through the trauma of unpicking all the things I thought I knew, reassessing everything, falling apart, and being able to rebuild. The first time, I rebuilt on a foundation of broken trust, the second time I think I’ve come out with a more nuanced sense of things.

There are few things more frightening than finding that your reality doesn’t work. However, when you think about it, so much of the reality we inhabit depends on trust. It depends on things we have all agreed are true, exist and can be used as points of reference. Language, countries and economies are all part of our belief system. There’s a process at the moment not unlike saying ‘The Emperor has no clothes on’ in which we’re collectively reassessing the value of money markets, wealth made out of fantasy, and considering that the uber-rich might not be all that good for the rest of us. Bloodless revolutions can be dramatic and uncomfortable too.

I wonder what it was like for the devout Christians of the Victorian era, having to deal with Darwin, and the possibility that their book might not represent literal truth. There are still those who just won’t look at the evidence and who hold to the belief, and their relationship with the rest of reality gets ever more strained and problematic. There must have been plenty for whom Darwin brought deep, personal crisis. We’re asked to do a lot of trusting – of governments, scientists, lawyers, big businesses, media and medics these days more often than religious folk, but it is no less a belief position that keeps it all chipping along. We depend on the realities other people help to make, and sometimes those are very faulty indeed.

Most of the UK is in drought, my bit is being battered by torrential rain. We’ve had years of less predictable and more problematic weather already, but we’re still reluctant to think about climate change. For everyone whose notion of reality depends on car, reliable water supplies, all the electricity you can dream of and the freedom to consume more than you can afford, climate change is madness. Going there, recognising it, would require of our culture something not unlike a nervous breakdown. It’s going to hurt like hell.

I have leaned, in my personal life, that no matter how familiar and established a fictional reality is, when you are dealing with lies and illusions, it just doesn’t work. The effort required to bend and re-shape things into other things, so that your dysfunctional reality holds together, is vast. Every piece of evidence that doesn’t fit has to be reinvented. Experiences that contradict, must be forgotten, feelings that go against the reality, must be crushed. It may seem that we can make the reality stick, and that no other reality is possible, but it catches up with us in the end. Either we can’t sustain the work involved in holding a faith position about things that blatantly aren’t true, or we get so far removed from the rest of the world that we can’t function. Collectively, climate change will do one or the other to us, unless we deal with it. I’d like to think it’s possible to change by reasoned, deliberate choice rather than in crisis.

In personal life, the breaking of reality was an awful experience, but the far side of it is a much better place. Things make sense again. Sensory evidence can be trusted, emotions taken into account. A greater sense of inner peace becomes possible.

I’m wondering if ‘Jayne’ will feel tempted to comment on this post. If she does, it could be to ask if I’ve realised that I have been living a lie for the last couple of years. ‘Jayne’ has tried on several occasions to assert this already, but unless I’m very much mistaken, she needs to. ‘Jayne’ slipped up over the Easter weekend and made a comment that took me from suspicion about the familiarity of her phrasing, through to a reasonable degree of confidence that I know who she is.

Assuming I’m right in my guess then ‘Jayne’s ‘ hostility is necessary for her. Based on what I think I know, her situation requires her to hold the belief that I am a cruel, vindictive, heartless sort of person. It has been necessary for some time that she reads the very worst imaginable things into anything I do or say and must, therefore, cherry pick the bits that can be tweaked support her world view. So she comes to the blog of someone she dislikes for something, anything, that reinforces her perspective. I wonder what she has to carefully ignore to make her world work. I wonder what she has to pretend to like or accept, what she has to suppress within herself, in order to get from one day to the next with her reality intact. It’s no way to live. I know, I’ve been there. I try not to be too hard on her. She frustrates me, but I feel very sorry for her, and I also know that merely my saying that will poke the flimsy foundations of her world. If I am nice to her, I will hurt her. You can’t help someone whose reality doesn’t work, without causing them a lot of distress.

Sometimes the best we can hope for anyone, is that the fabulous prison-castle construction made of lies and straw shows its true nature so that it can be kicked to pieces. The walls are mostly just air. You are free to leave. It’s good when that happens.

Working with Truth

Any sane person, when faced with information that doesn’t fit their world view, or their understanding of something more specific, has to consider the idea that they’ve maybe got it wrong. The problem with this – and I speak from considerable personal experience here – is that if you are being persistently lied to, it’s not easy to work out where the balance of truth is. Truth is, to me, both very important and terribly elusive. It’s so often subjective, we see the bit of it in front of us and not the wider picture, we see it through the bias of our own experiences, and through the filters of our own needs and assumptions. What is true in one place and time may not hold up in another. I’ve recently read Graeme K Talboys’ The Druid Way – which discusses the importance of Truth in a Celtic worldview. Truth, in this sense is about inherent rightness which exists in relationship, less about the subjectivity inherent in surfaces, more about looking for deeper themes and currents. I care, passionately, about being honest and living honourably. Truth, in all its complexity has to be a part of that. Having a workable world view is necessary. Having a world view that fits with the available information is vital if you want to do anything at all. You can’t act honourably when you are standing on a pile of lies. Even if the lies aren’t yours. Good choices depend on good information – on truth. Being able to trust your own judgement is essential also, because without that it’s very difficult to navigate anything. Again I speak from experience here. Judgement is based on the quality of our own perceptions, our ability to asses those perceptions and deduct information from them in relevant ways, and our ability to predict based on those deductions. Most of us do this, most of the time in a fairly unconscious way. At any point, mistakes lead to confusion. The more precise our perceptions are, the closer we come to truth and the more scope there is for honour. The more aware we are of our own failings and biases, the better we handle the deduction stage, and the more experience we have, the more scope we have to predict outcomes based on what we think we know. There are so many places this can go wrong. Insert one false piece of information into the process, and it’s doomed from the outset. It’s a precarious sort of balancing act, comparing what I think I know with anything I now learn. Is the old information right? Have I misjudged? Am I being misled? Without the confidence that we can trust external sources as being truthful, truth itself becomes ever more elusive. It is necessary both to be able to learn and embrace new perspectives, and also to know when to hold firm. How? I can suggest reasoned arguments based on assessing available information, going beyond it to look for supporting evidence from less contentious sources, getting a second opinion and so forth. There isn’t always time. How do I tell between the truth I want to hear and the one that really exists? How do I tell between the truth that is mine, and the lie someone else wants me to swallow? How do any of us? Our entire legal system depends on these questions, and so many of our day to day interactions as well. Are there inherent qualities in truth that help announce its presence? I’ve mulled that old idea that truth is beauty (Keats?) and I’m still mulling. I want truth to be beauty. I want it to have grace and elegance. Perhaps the best measure of ‘truth’ and its value, is the direction it takes us in. A truth that challenges is different from a claimed truth that mostly just destroys something. A truth that explains is different from one that justifies. The devil is in the detail, as always. I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone else thinks on this one.